On June 30th of last year, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that could affect congressional redistricting nationwide. This case seeks to answer an important question: Should any state court be allowed to draw federal congressional districts?
The case Moore v. Harper will address North Carolina’s congressional map. The state Supreme Court says the map drawn by its Legislature violated state constitutional provisions against partisan gerrymandering. The Court replaced the congressional map with a map that they believe does not violate gerrymandering laws.
At the core of the issue is the legal theory called the Independent State Legislature Doctrine. This theory is over 200 years old and has never been adopted into law, but conservatives have embraced one particular clause, which holds that only state legislatures can set the rules regarding federal elections. The theory invokes the Elections Clause, Article 1 Section 4 in the U.S. Constitution, which states, “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof…”
The use of the Independent State Legislature Doctrine as it is written in this context could lead to state legislatures becoming the sole determinants of election districts, without any review or oversight from state courts, nor a governor’s veto.
The U.S. Supreme Court is tasked with interpreting the Constitution and federal laws, which impacts how laws, rules, etc. are administered and applied. Four Supreme Court Justices expressed their support for the independent legislative theory. If the theory gets enough support from the Supreme Court, this could lead to state courts being unable to get involved with the drawing of federal congressional districts, limiting the ability of stakeholders to intervene if/when a redistricting process becomes overly partisan in nature.
A ruling like this would alter how congressional elections are conducted across the country and could amplify partisan gerrymandering, allowing the party that controls the legislature to draw voting districts favoring its candidates. This would be a significant threat to our democracy and could lead to the creation of more barriers to voting for registered voters.
North Carolina’s high court had previously ruled against a congressional map drawn by Republican state lawmakers for violating the state’s constitution. The court, which flipped to GOP control in January of this year, said in February that it would break with tradition and revisit this ruling.
On Friday, April 28th, 2023, the North Carolina Supreme Court handed down three rulings that reversed previous rulings by the same court on whether partisan gerrymandering and a strict voter ID law violated the state constitution. The court’s decisions give the state legislature free rein to draw voting maps that favor their candidates in future elections, create a new and unnecessary barrier for voters through a restrictive ID requirement, and disenfranchise 55,000 formerly incarcerated citizens.
The redistricting ruling sets up North Carolina to return to legislative maps that give Republicans an aggressive edge over Democrats both locally and in the U.S. House. It also offers the U.S. Supreme Court an opportunity to sidestep ruling on the broad legal theory tied to this case.
CCJ is a strong advocate for the protection of voters’ rights, and we believe that every vote should count. Partisan gerrymandering is a major threat to the rights of voters and our democracy in general. It is a tactic used to silence the voices of certain demographics and to increase one party’s odds of winning an election, and it must be stopped. We hope that the U.S. Supreme Court does not capitalize on the opportunity to create more barriers for registered voters.
For more information or to get involved in work around this issue, please contact our Field Program Coordinator Paul at 412-229-7333 or email@example.com.